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Mr. McCAIN. Mr. President, when we debated the Hurricane Sandy Supplemental bill in the Senate prior to Christmas, I was unable to support the spending bill because much of the taxpayer funding in the bill had little or nothing to do with meeting the immediate needs of individuals misplaced by Hurricane Sandy. Unfortunately, not much has changed with the House bill that we will soon vote on. At a time when we face ongoing trillion-dollar deficits and a $16.4 trillion debt, we cannot justify this type of spending.
While some of the projects included in this bill may hold merit on their own, many of the projects included should go through the normal budget and appropriations process, where Congress has time to vet the need for such spending requests. To drive home this point, the Congressional Budget Office--CBO--analysis of the bill tells us that only 7 percent of the funding in this bill will be spent this year--FY 2013--and roughly 70 percent of the funding will not be spent until FY 2015 and beyond.
After examining this bill, I have found numerous examples of questionable spending:
Millions to replace automobiles owned by the Federal Government, including:
$1 million for DEA to replace 15 vehicles;
$230,000 for ATF to replace three vehicles;
$300,000 for the Secret Service vehicles; and
$855,000 for ICE vehicles.
The Federal Government currently owns or leases over 660,000 vehicles--surely we can find replacements within our current inventory. Shouldn't we focus on providing relief directly to those still trying to rebuild their lives before replacing a bureaucrat's car?
There is $16 billion for Community Development Block Grant funds for 47 States and Puerto Rico that can be used for events in 2011, 2012 and 2013.
There is $2 million to repair damage to the roofs of museums in Washington, D.C., while many in Hurricane Sandy's path still have no permanent roof over their own heads.
The bill includes $50 million for National Park Service Historic Preservation grants, which was not included in the President's request; $180 million for the Department of Agriculture's Emergency Watershed Protection program, which helps restore watersheds damaged by wildfires and droughts for areas including Colorado; highway funding for the Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands; $15 million for NASA facilities, though NASA itself has called its damage from the hurricane ``minimal.'' On the day after the storm hit, NASA's Wallops Island put out a statement stating that ``an initial assessment team surveyed roads and facilities at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility today reporting a number of downed trees but otherwise minimal impact in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.''
The bill includes $111 million for a weather satellite data mitigation gap reserve fund, a controversial program created by President Obama by executive order for ocean zoning planning; $8.5 million for weather forecasting equipment; $23 million for the USDA ``Forest Restoration Program'' for planting trees on private property. This program is actually a Farm Bill subsidy program that's run by a relatively unknown agency called the ``Farm Service Administration'' which is primarily responsible for managing crop insurance. Under this program, private landowners with about 50 acres of land can apply for up to $500,000 in free grants for tree planting activities.
The bill also includes $118 million for taxpayer-supported AMTRAK, $86 million more than the President's request. While some of the funding will go for repairs, money will also go to increasing passenger capacity to New York and future mitigation efforts. In a 2-page letter from AMTRAK that gives a broad description of how the money will be spent, almost all of it falls under funding for future capital projects. This includes funding for the ``Gateway Program.''
According to AMTRAK, the Gateway Program, which was started in 2011 and is projected to cost over $13 billion, is ``a comprehensive program of infrastructure improvements to increase track, tunnel, bridge, and station capacity serving New York City that will improve current assets and allow the eventual doubling of passenger trains into Manhattan.'' I am not here to debate the merits or the need for new tunnels, but this is clearly a capital improvement project--unrelated to Hurricane Sandy.
AMTRAK is up and running so it is not apparent why this funding is deemed ``emergency'' spending and included in this spending package. Keep in mind, AMTRAK receives roughly $1 billion in annual funding. Future mitigation projects should be debated in next year's budget process.
The bill includes $100 million for Head Start; $1 million for Legal Services Corporation; $3.5 billion for the Army Corps of Engineers--with little clarity on how the money will be spent. More projects are not something the Army Corps can handle. They are currently experiencing a backlog of construction and maintenance projects of approximately $70 billion. Furthermore, a 2010 report released by the Government Accountability Office noted that carryover funds have increased ``due to the large amount of supplemental funding the Corps has received in recent years.'' Clearly, supplemental spending on the Army Corps has not paid off.
As a nation, we are $16.4 trillion in debt and dealing with trillion-dollar deficits. We do need to come to the aid of those who lost everything in Hurricane Sandy and are struggling to get their lives back together. Congress, however, cannot continue down this road of irresponsible spending. We must pass a true disaster spending bill that only spends money on disaster recovery and response, not pet projects.
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